They're so cute!

I finally taught (demonstrated) a lab for the first time. Yay! These first-year students are soooo cute! We were doing basic logic gates, working up to a full adder. Their confusion over DeMorgan's law was priceless!

For those who haven't done boolean algebra (which means that you haven't done engineering, philosophy, computer science, math, or statistics), this law states that:

not( X and Y ) = (not(X)) or (not(Y))
not( X or Y ) = (not(X)) and ((not(y))

They're occasionally useful in proofs (although the proofs that you get in second-year philosophy courses tend to be fairly contrived examples), but absolutely vital in electrical engineering. You see, if you have a chip with 3 OR gates and 3 AND gates, and you need 4 OR gates... deMorgan's to the rescue!

I especially loved one kid's reaction to me showing him how to double-negate a term to make it more obviously succeptible to deMorgan's. "You can do that?!" heh, yep.

(the term in question: (not(A) and (B)). Make that not(not(not(A) and (B), and it's easier to see that you can use the first of those laws. Oh, and if you write not(A) as "A with a bar on top" on paper, it's also easier to see)

In the students' defense, deMorgan's is the kind of thing that only my brother would understand in a lecture. I mean, until you do a few examples by yourself... ideally under pressure of "I don't have enough logic gates!"... these laws seem stupid and pointless.

I was chatting with the instructor after the lab, and he said that the double-negation (i.e. X = not not X; feel free to add not-nots whenever you want) is one of those mathematical tricks that are really annoying the first time you see them. Judging from the pleasure I received from pointing out this trick during the lab... and from my own twisted personality... I definitely agree with this!

On a more serious note, I was struck by how much (most of) the students enjoyed the lab. They were really proud about building a half-adder (that's something which adds two single-bit binary inputs, without even a "carry" input). Many groups were anxious about moving on to the next question (building a full adder), because they didn't want to dismantle their half-adder. (even though it stated on the lab sheet that they should use their half-adder in the full-adder!)

I even wondered how my life would have gone differently if I had signed up for the first-year computer architecture lab at SFU... I avoided doing any labs, because they seemed like a lot of work and I was insanely lazy in those days (hey, I was doing Philosophy!). But if I'd taken a lab or two, would I have gotten "bitten" by the "building things" bug? Would I have switched over to doing electrical engineering as my first degree?

This isn't really a regret -- my life progressed the way it did. If I were into regrets over my academic career, I'd be bitterly cursing the SFU computer science regulations at the time and the dot-com boom. Due to the dot-com boom, there were tons of CS students, so upper-level courses were restricted to declared majors. But to do the department regulations, you could only become a declared major if you took PHIL 001 "critical thinking". Since I was doing a philosophy honors degree and that course was so easy it didn't count towards a major (let alone an honors!), I refused to take the course, and as a result I ended up doing discrete mathematics.

Now, I don't dislike discrete mathematics. But I feel much more at home approaching it from a CS perspective. I like to be motivated by the thought of writing a program to create sudoku squares or discover music phrases; studying combinatorics or cliques in graph theory just for the sake of aesthetics doesn't get me particularly enthused.

I guess I have been bitten by the "build things" bug.

Posted at 2009-10-15 23:54 | Permanent link | Comments

I'm hot!

I'm hot -- I'm not referring to my physical appearance (although my hair is undeniably fantastic), but rather the temperature. My room finally has heat!

It's a good thing, too. Quite apart from my general health and well-being, I happened to come across the residential accommodation contract while I was cleaning my room last night. That clearly stated that the landlord was responsible for providing heat.

This evening has been great; I could actually work comfortably at home, rather than lounging around in bed because that was warmer. I'm eagerly anticipating the night: I might actually sleep well! If I don't, then I'll look into getting a camping mattress or new sheets or something like that.

In other news, I've been eating raspberries from Herefordshire. I found this name so amusing that I had to post it here. According to a random webpage, Herefordshire is 84 miles (135 km) from Reading. (that's a CBC listener joke)

Last Sat, I went to St. Enoch square, a "mall" in Glasgow. It was quite small... two stories, 30-40 stores. The individual store sizes were on par with Canadian malls, but the number of stores was quite low. Maybe half the size of Brentwood mall? (that's the local mall near my parent's house)

I bought running shoes for £29.99, which was the most that I've ever paid for footwear. I haven't gone running yet, but I'll go soon. On the way to the square, I walked next to the river; there's a very nice paved walkway there. I definitely approve of the pedestrian / cycling paths around here... this was actually part of a "75" trail (or something like that), linking Glasgow, Edinburgh, and various other nearby cities. Maybe next summer, I'll actually bike that! It's about 50 miles.

On the bike front, it appears that the police auctions are held in Dalry, Ayrshire, which is about 30 miles to the south-east. :( I'll have to look elsewhere for second-hand bikes, or just splurge and get a new one.

Posted at 2009-10-14 23:56 | Permanent link | Comments

SFU alumni lies (new contact info)

When I graduated from SFU in 2003, the alumni associated offered students a "lifelong" email account. Guess what? Apparently life ends at 30! It's being replaced with an email forwarding service.

I can't say that I'm surprised that they reneged on their promise -- I'm sure that they never actually thought through the logistics of giving a lifelong email account to all alumni. That adds up to many thousands of accounts.

On the other hand, they don't / didn't need to give people a lot of space. I mean, 5 megs should be plenty for email. If somebody wanted to send photos or large documents or whatever other silly things that aren't appropriate for emails, they could go elsewhere.

Other than the backpedaling, I guess it's not too much of a loss. I mean, they didn't offer smtp service, so I had to keep on switching my smtp server based on where I was. In the end I started sending everything through the gmail smtp server, which resulted in some people seeing my gmail accounts as my email address, instead of my actual "lifelong" address.

So I took the plunge and started paying $5/year for a account. They seem like a good company; they have many connectivity options (including proxies and tunneling stuff, in case the normal ports are blocked), and they seem to have a good reputation amongst geeks.

I'm now using my uvic alumni email forwarding for my email address. Sure, it's exactly the same as the new SFU service... but they never promised anything more. Besides, I spent way more time talking about UVic than SFU these days. I'll keep the SFU email (as a forwarding thing) for the forseeable future so people's emails don't get lost.

My "public" email is:
That's not a change, but over the years, various other addresses have cropped up due to various misconfigurations on my part.

This public address is still going through gmail, but via the "google apps for domains" thing. As mentioned on my contact page, if you want to send anything private, either use encryption or ask me for my other email address. Or just trust that google will Do No Evil (tm). :)

Posted at 2009-10-09 01:23 | Permanent link | Comments

Misadventures in the land of far-away voices.

So it turned out that my phone did come with a SIM card -- it was just that the UI was so terrible, I couldn't get it to work. It makes for an interesting examination, though. I'm probably one of the last people in the world who is interested in documentation and HCI (human-computer interfaces), but who isn't familiar with cell phones. (yes, I had a cell phone in Singapore, but it was a Windows ME machine on loan -- I had no particular desire to explore it)

The main difficulty was dialing. I read that I could "dial *#100# to see [my] phone number". So I pressed those buttons. As soon as I pressed anything, the screen changed to display the characters I pressed, along with a "save / delete" prompt at the bottom. But when I finished typing in the secret code, nothing happened.

Saving the number didn't help. Deleting characters obviously didn't help. So what the mao?! I also spent ages going through all the menus, paying particular attention to the Settings and Contacts menus, to see if the phone knew its number already. Nothing. So I assumed that it wasn't dialing anything because it didn't have a sim card.

Well, the (extra) sim card arrived, got inserted, and nothing changed. So I started pressing buttons at random, and when I pressed a green crescent pointing downwards, it suddenly dialed the number! Quite why a green downwards crescent is "dial", I don't know.

I'm particularly impressed because nowhere do they explain this. The three "start here", "beginner's guide" and "complete manual" have lots of details (and pictures) for adding a sim card, micro-sd card, etc. And lots of details about how to download new games and stuff like that. But actually explaining the secret button that dials? Nope.

Another "joy" is the top-right button. On most screens, this serves as the "back/cancel" button. When entering digits, it's the "delete" button. But on the main screen, it's the "launch web browser" button.

So if you're deep in some menu... say, apps->camera->take picture->save picture, or apps->organizer->alarm->turn on... you keep on pressing that button to go to a higher-level menu. But if you press it too many times, it launches the web browser! Of course, you can just press that button again to quit the browser. But launching the browser takes a second. It's highly annoying.

I'm amused that the camera requires a sound -- you can't configure the phone to take a photo silently. I remember hearing rumors about this being legislated for phones in Japan due to voyeur panty-shots on the subway; evidently such concerns affect the UK as well.

As an aside, I really can't fathom the appeal of such photos... I mean, I'm not personally attracted to nurses or stewardesses, but I can imagine how somebody might find them really hot. But blurry camera photos of non-sexy underwear? What's the point?! I mean, a department store catalog has better photos of underwear!

Overall, though, I'm fairly happy with it. As alluded to earlier, the phone has an alarm. I'm sure that you all just thought "... umm, yeah?", but I wasn't expecting that. I was willing to pay £15 or so for an alarm, so getting this phone saved me that amount.

I haven't yet used the phone as a phone. One of my labmates asked me to phone him so he could save my number, but I was concentrating on a computer problem at the time, so I handed the phone to him and told him to do it. I guess I should do the same with other people in the lab -- although next time I should actually operate the phone myself.

I kind-of feel like those people who got a computer for the first time, and are too scared of the machine to try anything themselves. But rather than getting over it, I'm trying to maintain this feeling -- when you write documentation or design interfaces, it's good to be as much of a newbie as possible. I'm decent at pretending to forget all my technical knowledge, but I've never pretended to be scared of the technology before.

Posted at 2009-10-06 23:26 | Permanent link | Comments

Glasgow Pictures

I finally have photos of my room, the walk to the university, and my lab. However, I've discovered the difference in optics between a so-so digital camera from 5 years ago, and a bottom-of-the-line cell phone camera today.

Namely, the real camera is better. Way better. Way, way, way better. :(

Oh well. It's not like anybody really needs good-quality photos of my bed. And if you do, then we need to talk. If you're a cute unattached girl. Between 22 to 46 years old, according to the standard creepiness rule. (I especially love that comic's punchline)

On a more serious note, I may well borrow somebody's digital camera to take nice photos of the university. My supervisor is really into photography, so he could well have a good-quality old camera... on the other hand, I'm not certain if he has any digital cameras. He likes film. Yes, he's that much into photography.

Anyway, the photos are on my new google account:
Glasgow photos

(no, I don't know why google thinks that some of my Singapore photos were taken in China)

Posted at 2009-10-03 22:22 | Permanent link | Comments


I haz teh fuzzies!


I ended up going downtown to find them. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, although that doesn't say much. I was looking forward to going downtown with slightly less trepidation than a trip to the dentist. I don't like city centres. There's cars and people and tall buildings and people and signs and people. I don't like people.

It wasn't too bad, though. The trip -- at least to the parts of downtown that I walked through -- ended up being uncomfortable, but not to the level of anxiety. I wouldn't have wanted to do it at night, though.

I had to walk for quite a bit. I left university and headed downtown, but after a few blocks I realized that I only had ten pounds on me. Not having any kind of reference for how much footwear cost here (other than Clarke's, which has designer men's slippers for 20 pounds or more!), I headed back home to pick up more money[1] before going downtown. That added about 40 minutes to the trip.

[1] I brought £500 with me, but I only put £100 in my wallet at once. I'd just finished one set of 100, and thus had to pick up another 100.

It was about 25 minutes to get from my house to Primark (the clothing store recommended by two locals). It was in a car-less area -- evidently near the city centre, they have a few streets that are pedestrian-only. The store was small by North American department store standards... say, a quarter of the volume of the Bay at Brentwood Mall. I'm not certain if my slippers are officially women's slipper or not -- all the footwear was in one area, and most of them had heels. I looked for a separate section for distinctly male shoes, but couldn't find any. About 90% of the shoppers were female, although I did see some men's clothing. So the locals hadn't sent me to a lingerie store for a lark. :)

Anyway, I'm quite happy with these slippers. The outside of them is even softer than it looks... I spent a few minutes with my feet on the top of the slippers. Yes, I know that's not how you're supposed to wear them. But they were so soft! They remind me of my mother's fake rabbit-fur coat that she used to wear when I was a child. And they were only £2.96!

Posted at 2009-10-01 18:47 | Permanent link | Comments

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